Article by Cordy Griffiths, CEO of tech agency Ballou 

female leader, women leading the wayAs we approach International Women’s Day it is very disheartening to write, at the start of the 2021, that one third of Britain’s biggest companies have missed the target set by a government-backed review to increase the number of women on their boards. 

The Hampton-Alexander review, launched in 2016, which called for 33% of board seats at FTSE 350 companies to be occupied by women at the end of 2020, has announced that a third of those companies have failed to meet, what is surely not, an ambitious target.   The independent report of the gender gap in the FTSE 350, produced by The Pipeline, the organisation that serves FTSE 100 companies across all sectors to promote hundreds of female executives, also makes depressing reading.

33 companies in the FTSE 100 have boards in which women make up less than a third of its members.  Only four companies in the FTSE 100 have more women in leadership positions than men.  When we get to the FTSE 250, things get even more pessimistic in terms of female representation.

At Ballou, we have a healthy gender representation within the organisation, as you would expect from a company with a female founder and a female CEO.  This puts us in the minority; only 3.7% of companies have female CEOs, down from 4.6% two years ago.

The old “male, pale and stale” stereotype of British company boards and executive committees is proving hard to dislodge, despite the fact that companies with 25% or more women on their executive committees achieve an impressive 16% net profit margin, 10% higher than businesses without a woman on their executive committees.   So, if we know that gender diversity makes sense on every level, what is stopping companies from stepping up and making the change?

Putting women on boards and executive committees is not egalitarian lip-service.  Companies fare better with more women in senior roles.  And if you think gender-parity can wait before you start to take action, think about this; at our current rate of progress, it will be almost 2090 before executive committees achieve gender parity.  Is this what we want for our sons and daughters at work?

History shows us that the only way to achieve parity is by monitoring, mentoring and promoting women out of the middle management tier and obtaining male buy-in to doing so.  Gender parity has to be kept front of mind.  An “oh well, it’s just turned out like that” attitude with a shrug of the shoulders just maintains the status quo.  It’s only by making a conscious effort we can change this situation.  The increased visibility of women in international politics must surely start to adjust any lingering negative perceptions about women working at a high level. What puzzles me is why the body of evidence pointing toward greater success with more women involved at board level is not enough to motivate companies to change?

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